CHRIS FOY’S LIONS VERDICT: Kyle Sinckler is classy and MUST go to South Africa … and Finn Russell’s recording at the expense of Johnny Sexton will attack fans who want the Lions
- Warren Gatland made a series of shocking omissions from his Lions squad
- Kyle Sinckler was shut out, much to the disbelief of Bristol and England
- He’s a class act, but Andrew Porter and Zander Fagerson are preferred instead
- Finn Russell’s recording at the expense of Johnny Sexton bears witness to positive intent
- Gatland’s decision to overlook Jonathan Davies of Wales was another huge shock
Warren was expected to give Gatland some shocks on Thursday, but the Lions head coach has delivered several – most notably Kyle Sinckler’s remarkable negligence.
It was widely believed that England’s preeminent tight propeller was a security for the squad to tour South Africa.
He was the understudy of Ireland’s Tadhg Furlong in 2017 and that pair seemed head and shoulders above the other contenders in such a pivotal position, but Sinckler has been left out instead. It is a decision that will be answered by understandable disbelief in Bristol and within the English setup.
England’s Kyle Sinckler (left) was one of the shocking omissions of Warren Gatland’s Lions squad, while Irish Jonny Sexton will also miss the South African tour.
The Lions coaching staff must have been concerned about the 28-year-old’s scrummaging as he is a rare talent on the field – a front row playmaker.
The Springboks will put immense pressure on the tourists, so Gatland and his assistants presumably thought Ireland’s Andrew Porter and Scottish Zander Fagerson would be better able to face the savage onslaught.
Still, Sinckler would have to leave on balance. He’s a class act.
As expected, Exeter No. 8 Sam Simmonds has been included, a development that will be widely welcomed as a reward for his sensational club-level performance.
Gatland chose Andrew Porter (left) and Zander Fagerson (right) instead of Sinckler
England may not appreciate its turbulent talent, but the lions have recognized that the Devonian can be a unique asset on hard soils in South Africa.
His participation was expected to be at the expense of Billy Vunipola and it turned out, but what was not expected was that the gigantic Saracen would also miss another number 8: Jack Conan from Leinster and Ireland.
Meanwhile, Gatland and Co have shown that they won’t be fixated on size and strength alone, as Justin Tipuric and Hamish Watson have both been named among the back rowers when there was a suspicion it would amount to an either / or choice.
Half-back was brave, with the selection of Scotland No. 10 Finn Russell ahead of veteran Irish Lion, Johnny Sexton.
Gatland made a series of notable omissions when he announced his roster on Thursday
The presence of Gregor Townsend on the coaching staff, as well as Steve Tandy, will have helped Russell’s case and Lions fans hoping for a positive approach against the Boks will enjoy the presence of the Racing 92 magician.
Below the backs, the quest for some profitable punching power has led to the selection of Scotland’s South African wing Duhan van der Merwe and Irish center Bundee Aki – which was certainly mentioned as Manu Tuilagi was deemed not ready enough.
However, Tuilagi hopes to close the season strongly with Sale after a long absence from injury and await the possibility of a late call.
The same can be said for Jonathan Davies. The fact that Gatland and his assistants overlooked central Wales and were loyal to Lions is another big surprise.
Chris Harris goes instead and what that suggests is that the coaches value current form over too many reputation choices. That’s a sensible approach. Elliot Daly, however, is in good standing despite the recent battle with England.
Welsh star Jonathan Davies (right) was also surprisingly overlooked by Gatland and his team
Two English locks, Jonny Hill and Courtney Lawes, were among the more unexpected inclusions – the first because he’s still settling at Test level and the last because he’s been injured.
However, Hill has been fantastic for Exeter lately, and Lawes has enough credit in the bank to warrant his place. His status as a renowned hitman will have appealed to Lions management, who will know that the Springbok forwards will stop for a while as ball carriers.
On the same basis, it was believed that Sam Underhill was a prime contender to make the cut, but he is another who missed out due to an early injury absence. He and Josh Navidi from Wales will try to keep fit as leading stand-by men.
The fact that they have to bide their time and hope for an opening is an illustration of the astounding wealth of the Lions in the back row.